MOBILE, Ala. -- Hugh Thornton, a product of Oberlin High School and the University of Illinois, has made the switch from tackle back to guard during the week leading up to the 2013 Senior Bowl and is calling upon a unique reserve of knowledge he gained on the wrestling mats.
Thornton placed third in the heavyweight division in the 2009 Division II Ohio State Wrestling Championships, one year after earning the second of back-to-back state heavyweight titles in Idaho.
“Wrestling, to me, is probably the ultimate sport because there’s nothing like the feeling of dominating someone one-on-one, just imposing your will on them,” Thornton said. “I think that’s what offensive linemen do. You’re in a tight environment, where you have a guy lined up against you and you’ve got to stop him, drive him off the ball. I think that I developed a mean streak from wrestling and that’s where a lot of my tenacity comes from, that wrestling attitude.
“The biggest thing that it’s helped my game with is my hip stability and balance. For those who know anything about wrestling, it’s all about balance, and quickness, and reaction, and definitely getting your hands in the right place, fighting for hand position. I think that’s helping my game a lot.”
Thornton says his wrestling background has eased the stress of making the transition back to guard, a position he played during his sophomore and junior seasons at Illinois, because the interior linemen have a “physical” task.
“It’s really physical,” Thornton said. “It’s not as much finesse as tackle, but it’s just about doing the dirty work. You’ve got 350-pound guys coming up, lining up against you every snap and you’ve got to take them on, one-on-one.”
In addition to using his wrestling background for help in the transition, Thornton is calling upon the competition he is experiencing each day at practice leading up to this Saturday’s Senior Bowl game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Thornton said. “The Big Ten’s a great conference, but now, I’m able to step out of the Big Ten realm and step into a national competition level with all these guys. There’s a lot of great competition out here, like I saw today. I’m excited to go against the South team Saturday because I know some of those guys are huge, and I’m just excited to be down here.
“It’s been surreal. Coming from a high school like Oberlin, there’s not a lot of attention drawn to it. It’s a small school, kind of in the middle of nowhere, and having the opportunity to thrive in a Big Ten environment, a competitive environment, it’s just been a dream come true. I haven’t always been a football fan. I started late in high school and it’s meant the world to progress every year and get better and learn from some of the best people.”